The Problem Wasn't the TPS Report: It was the Memo

TPS Reports and Change Management, Part I

No movie has captured how infuriating it is to be stuck in an inefficient workplace nearly as well as the beloved comedy "Office Space." One of the most quoted scenes from the movie involves the repeated passive-aggressive berating the movie's protagonist, Peter, receives after forgetting to follow a new policy issued by his employer, the soulless tech firm Initech.

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What was Peter's unforgivable crime?

He forgot to attach a newly-issued cover page to his TPS report.

Mundane, Yet Integral

The movie implies that TPS reports are a mundane, yet integral, aspect of the day-to-day operations at Initech, something that Peter distributed on a regular basis.

We learn early on that Initech's management recently sent out a company-wide a memo alerting everyone to a new policy requiring that all TPS reports now include a specific cover page. We can infer that although the memo itself was uninspiring and was not accompanied by any other efforts to explain or emphasize the importance of this new policy, Initech's management considered adoption of the new policy to be critical. News of Peter's negligence quickly spreads throughout the workplace, and the fallout from the forgotten cover page serves as the catalyst for the rest of the movie's shenanigans.

Management Messed Up, Not Peter

In Office Space, the TPS report and cover page memo represent everything that is wrong with office culture. But status reports, performance metrics, and other unsexy documents are inevitable and necessary in every office. I would like to make the case that the TPS report incident exemplifies poor change management, rather than a symbol of everything wrong with the modern workplace.

Change Can Be Good...

Changes in workplace policies happen all the time, for many reasons.

  • A company may switch to a new insurance provider, requiring everyone to fill out new enrollment paperwork, even long-time employees that haven’t made changes to their benefits packages in years.
  • A department might adopt new accounting software that changes how people fill out their timesheets and request days off.
  • An organization might undergo a rebranding effort that forces everyone to apply a new layout to all publications.

While these changes may all appear mundane, they are all examples of small improvements that are essential for the health and success of the company, and it is critical that all employees fully accept and implement the new practices.

...When It's Managed Effectively

Ensuring a smooth policy change requires careful planning, management, and communication, no matter how big or small the change; you can’t just send out a memo. To get people to better adapt to, or even embrace, a change in office policy or process you need to obtain buy-in from everyone who will be affected. You need to make sure that everyone understands why the change is necessary, what the benefits of the change will be (or in some cases, what the risks of not changing will be), and what actions will be required from each person. You also need to make the new practice as easy and accessible as possible for everyone, and make the old practice harder.

In the next post, I will provide some strategies and tips for ensuring a more successful policy change, using Initech’s TPS cover report scenario as an example. Stay tuned….

Photo by Don Myers, Tps report, added text by A. Suchman, CC BY-SA 3.0